You hear it every year you’ve been an NBA fan. Broadcasters. Beat writers. Basketball columnists in bunches. Players. Newspapers. Magazines. If the NBA PR machine has reach somewhere Stern is touted as the league’s savior from near bankruptcy and it’s proponent to global growth and expansion.
You’ve got to give him his due. Here’s a short list of the Stern era.
- Behind the scenes mastermind of the ABA/NBA merger
- Expansion of the league by 7 teams.
- Increased popularity: all the games were not even televised in 84 and now all have some form of national outlet and media coverage.
- Introduction of the salary cap regulating team spending/player salaries
- Growth of basketball’s international presence
- Creation of a drug testing scheme
Great list; you can hear the gushing from all sports outlets.
The only problem is its just not true. David Stern’s accomplishments are more overblown then Wilt Chamberlain. Less gracious then Jordan’s retirement speech. I can’t contemplate many attach these league outcomes to his career. Allow me to digress.
There are three phases in Sterns career: Pre-Commish, Post-Commish and Post-Jordan (solidified after then Piston/Pacers Brawl).
Popularity dropped in response to a watered down 70’s product. The rival ABA recruited disproportionate numbers of the most athletic players and created a brand of ball more exciting then the NBA. After the 76 merger quality improved as all elite talent congealed in one league.
Stern is credited with being the driving force behind the merger over Larry O’Brian. Fair enough. Except the ABA was formed with a documented intention of forcing league expansion via a merger. In 1970, 5 years before O’Brian was even appointed, NBA owners voted 13-4 in favor of a merger. No one opposed it and this table was set before Stern was even invited. Rubber arm twisting does not a best commissioner make.
Stern gets lots of credit for NBA growth. His brilliant marketing made it happen. So the story goes… craziest assertion of them all.
There’s something I call it the Kevin Spacey rule. Look at him, a balding, ordinary man. Be it acting, athletics, music, cooking, investment advice or anything else people are willing to pay for. Talent sells. Kevin Spacey is talented therefore Miramax can easily sell a balding middle age man to the public as a a serial killer, criminal mastermind or even a GD Space Alien/Mental Patient. Everyone knows Kevin Spaceys got the goods. Its an easy sell.
Have the most talent: make the most money. The Kevin Spacey rule is universal, but infinitely amplified in the realm of professional sports. This is why the WNBA (a Stern failure) was stumbleing uphill at the exact same time the NBA thrived. How is it Stern’s amazing promotional skills didn’t help out? Not enough WNBA American Beauties? Uh uh, not enough Kevin Spacey. Conversely, lets look at the NBA.
ABA businessmen forced the NBA to accept their players, teams and entertaining style by Keizer Soze’ing them. The ABA had a plan. 10 of the next year’s NBA all stars: ex-ABA players. 63 of the 82 ABA players were good enough to replace their NBA counterparts. The popularity issues started to melt away after 1976: competition got hot.
Concurrently brewing in the NCAA Larry Bird and Magic Johnson created buzz driving the most watched game in history. Bird entered the next draft. Magic the following year. Just look at who showed up to play post-merger…
1978: Larry Bird, Michael Ray Richardson, Mo Cheeks, Reggie Theus, Michael Cooper, Mike Mitchell,
1979: Magic Johnson, Bill Cartwright, Bill Laimbeer, Mark Eaton, Sidney Moncrief, Jim Paxon
1980: Kevin McHale, Andrew Tony
1981: Isiah Thomas, Mark Aguire, Buck Williams, Tom Chambers, Rolondo Blackman, Larry Nance, Danny Ainge
1982: Dominique Wilkins, James Worthy, Terry Cummings, Sleepy Floyd, Mark Eaton
1983: Clyde Drexler, Ralph Sampson, Dale Ellis, Jeff Malone, Doc Rivers
That was 4 years prior to “Comish Stern”. Its not hard to see why heads were turning. The best players of all time were being drafted every year. Its only the beginning. Stern is doing his fannnntastic promotion now. Who’s next?
1984: Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley, John Stockton, Alvin Robertson, Otis Thorpe, Kevin Willis
Just keeping track: in year 1 the GOAT and arguably the GOAT C, PF, and nearly PG (the GOAT PG wasn’t drafted 4 years earlier) entered the league. Yearly strengthening repeats till the 90’s peak. Keep in mind that within 4 years of Stern becoming commisoner the GOATs of every position are drafted, and most of the runner ups.
1985: Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone, Chris Mullin, Joe Dumars, Michael Adams, Terry Porter, Xaiver McDaniel, Detlef Schremph, Charles Oakley, AC Green, Hot Rod Williams, Gerald Wilkins, Manute Bol
1986: Mark Price, Brad Daughtery, Arvidis Sabonis, Dennis Rodman, Len Bias (ouch), Jeff Hornacek, Drazen Petrovich
1987: David Robinson, Scotti Pippen, Kevin Johnson, Horace Grant, Reggie Miller, Mark Jackson, Reggie Lewis
1988: Danny Manning, Thunder Dan Marjle, Rik Smitts, Mitch Richmond, Hersey Hawkings, Rod Strickland, Anthony Mason, Avery Johnson, Tim Legler
1989: Sean Elliot, Glen Rice, Mookie Blaylock, Shawn Kemp, Tim Hardaway, Vlade Divac,
1990: Derrick Coleman, Gary Payton, Jayson Williams, Antonio Davis,
1991: Larry Johnson, Kenny Anderson, Dikembe Mutumbo, Steve Smith, Terrel Brandon, Dale Davis, Billy Owens
1992: Shaquille O’Neal, Alonzo Mourning, Christian Laitner, Lattrell Sprewell, PJ Brown, Jim Jackson, Clarence Wetherspoon, Robert Horry
1993: Chris Webber, Penny Hardaway, Jamal Mashburn, Vin Baker, Alan Houston, JR Rider, Sam Cassall, Nick Van Exel, Bryon Russell, Bruce Bowen
1994: Glen Robinson, Jason Kidd, Grant Hill, Juan Howard, Eddie Jones, Jalen Rose
1995: Jerry Stackhouse, Rasheed Wallace, Kevin Garnett, Antonio McDyess, Damon Stoudamire, Michael Finley, Brent Barry, Joe Smith,
1996: Allen Iverson, Shareff Abdur Rahim, Stephon Marbury, Ray Allen, Antoine Walker, Kobe Bryant, Peja Stojakovich, Steve Nash, Jermaine O’Neal, Zydrunas Ilglauskas, Ben Wallace
1997: Tim Duncan, Keith Van Horn, Chauncy Billups, Tracy McGrady, Marc Jackson
1998: Mike Bibby, Vince Carter, Antawn Jamison, Dirk Nowitzki, Paul Pierce, Larry Hughes, Jason Williams, Bonzi Wells, Ricky Davis, Rashard Lewis, Brad Miller
1999: Elton Brand, Steve Francis, Baron Davis, Shawn Marion, Wally Scezzerbiak, Lamar Odom, Jonathon Bender, Andre Miller, Jason Terry, Ron Artest, Trajan Langdon, Corey Maggette, James Posey, Andre Kirelenko, Todd Maculough, Manu Ginobli, Chris Anderson, Raja Bell
Only a handful of the above are not all stars. All stars who I cut were Chris Gattling (who was an all star!), Theo Ratliff, Tom Gugliotta, Tyrone Hill, Cedric Ceballos, Dana Barrows, BJ Armstrong, Cliff Robinson, Kevin Duckworth, Lafyette Lever, Ricky Pierce, Kelly Tripucka, Joe Barry Carrol, Kiki Vandewedghe, Jeff Ruland, Bill Cartwright, Calvin Natt, Jim Paxon.
1. The influx of talent, for over 20 years, was constant yielding multiple hall of fame caliber players every draft. They were led by Jordan on the court. Jordan was marketed by his agent, David Falk, and Nike to become the most successful athlete of all time. If you want to find out why the NBA was so successful, look no further then Jordan and the above players who pushed themselves, the actual NBA product, over the top, to become the #2 worldwide sport.
2. Stern did not, and could not, do a single, solitary thing to influence this influx of talent.
Barring voodoo secrets Jordan trying out for his HS team or Cheryl Miller’s backyard beat downs on little reggie Reggie, David Stern was in no way involved. Even their influences from 60’s/70’s leagues existed long before Stern and have none of his fingerprints on them.
Since the 90’s competitive peak we’ve seen the real Stern. Jordan and the PLAYERS who sparked 80’s hoop revolution retired. The NBA became more synonymous with scandals, blunders and poor management then competition. Look at the laundry list since this time.
- Countless series being decided by atrocious officiating. (Suns vs Spurs, Kings vs Lakers twice, Mavs vs Heat in the finals).
- Those officials recieving mob-like protection from the league, while some actually worked for the mob fixing games the NBA claimed were ‘internally reviewed’ and thus fairly officiated.
- The majority of NBA teams losing money and being boat anchored, not bolstered, by the cap
- New balls that were forced on the league with little to no player consultation actually started cutting player’s hands.
- Increasingly repetitive and boring all star games/events. Three ball???!!!???
- Team City’s being blackmailed for publicly funded stadiums resulting in the removal of their team (to smaller markets) as punishment and selling them to his good friends. (Seattle/Clay Bennet)
- Horrendously unbalanced trades being approved that give advantages to large market teams. (Franchise Player Pau Gasol to the Lakers for nothing).
- Racially engineered dress codes to white wash a black league
- Obtuse fines with no congruency to the severity of actions. ($25,000 for criticizing a replacement ref who did suck, a month suspension for a single slap by Carmelo Anthony).
- The lowest rated NBA finals in history due to the flawed playoff format pitting the best teams against each other in the early rounds
- A near decade of unbalanced conferences often negating the finals. (LA New Jersey anyone? barf)
- Countless uncommitted owners making short term bucks by mortgaging the league’s future integrity. (Geogre Shin/Donald Sterling/Clay Bennet/Robert Sarver).
- Expansion teams failing in new markets (Vancouver, Charlotte after one team already failed there).
- Shamelessly saying the NBA has nothing to hide while at the same time blocking the publishing of Tim Donnahey’s book explaining the details of why him being busted was a surprise to no one.
The superstar retirements left a vacuum. The weak drafts a deficit. In 2000 Kenyon Martin went #1 followed by the likes of Stromile Swift, Darius Miles and Marcus Fizer. 2001 was headlined by Kwame Brown and Tyson Chandler. In 2002 Yao and Amare (taken 10’th) were the only legit prospects. 2003’s stacked draft (LBJ/Melo) showed some light… 6 years later talent is slightly stronger but confidence in the league is at an all time low.
Most people think games are fixed. Most owner’s would rather use their fan loyalty as blackmail to get free stadiums and trade good draft picks for cash. That being said, 99% of deals today are done for financial, not basketball purposes. Many teams actually pay totally capable/willing players not to play instead of trading them for more talent. Horrible players with no business in the league are being traded for great players merely for cap relief. DEAD players are even considered trade chips for god’s sake.
30 years with the same commissioner who’s response to negativity is to promote it out of the casual fan’s mind is softening the NBA. He acts as if dedicated fans who care and complain are the problem. Do we want a league supported by people who don’t care?
Boxing, a shell of it’s former self, was consumed by it’s management. It’s fans gave up. Perhaps the NHL under the ‘guidance’ of Gary Bettman is a better reference for what happens when a poor commissioner is given too much power for too long. I was watching an NHL playoff game that got pre-empted for… bowling. Their fans gave up.
Some still say Stern has been a maverick. A steady hand on the wheel of SS Recovery. Upon closer inspection you see a crack crew keeping things afloat while the captain is drunk in his cabin. Lucky, yes, incredibly. Great, not a chance. Easily one of the most ridiculous arguments in sports.